The dynamic biointerface between the mussel tissue and the physes plays an important role in rapid release

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Light microscopic image of a histologically stained section of a stem root, in which thin undulating sheets of dead stem root surrounding cilia (red) can be seen embedded in the living tissue of the generator (light blue). Credit: Genus Sivasundarampillai

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Light microscopic image of a histologically stained section of a stem root, in which thin undulating sheets of dead stem root surrounding cilia (red) can be seen embedded in the living tissue of the generator (light blue). Credit: Genus Sivasundarampillai

A team of chemists at McGill University, working with a colleague at Charité-Universitätsmedizin in Germany, has discovered part of the process that mussels use to bind to rocks and quickly release them when conditions demand it.

In their plan, reported In the journal Science, the team studied the interface between mussel tissue and the bundle of fibers they use to anchor themselves to rocks and other materials. A version has been published by Guoqing Pan and Bin Li with Jiangsu University and Suzhou University in China. Overview Essay The same journal issue outlines the team’s work on this new initiative.

Mussels are bivalve molluscs that live in both fresh and salt water environments. They have hinged shells connected by a ligament. Muscles ensure a tight seal when the shell closes. Mussels use fissile threads (commonly called beards) to attach themselves to solid materials such as rocks.


3D reconstruction of a micro-computed tomography (μCT) dataset. This movie was created from the reconstruction of a μCT dataset acquired by af stem root embedded in living tissue. Initially, the generator and septa tissues are visualized in grayscale, while the stem root lamellae are visualized in light blue. Moving from the outer stem region to the root of the stem, one can see a complex transition of septa and lamellae. Later in the movie, the generator tissue was removed from the model to more clearly visualize the complex structure of wavy lamellar sheets. Credit: Genus Sivasundarampillai

Mussel fissures have been extensively studied due to their unique ability to attach non-living material (thread-forming filaments) to living tissue and sever as needed. But, as Pan and Li point out, much of this research revolves around possible chemical bonding mechanisms. In this new effort, the research team focused on the dynamics of the bio-interface.

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To better understand how fissure threads attach to living tissue and how they can be removed if necessary, the research team used a variety of techniques to study the threads and the tissues they attach to. Using several types of imaging combined with spectroscopy, the team observed that the ends of the filaments were interconnected with layers of living tissue, which were covered by approximately 6 billion motile cilia.


Features reconstructed in 3D from a FIB-SEM image stack created from a small section in the stem root. Living tissue in dark blue, dead stem root sheet in light blue, secretory vesicles in teal, cilia in red. Credit: Genus Sivasundarampillai

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Features reconstructed in 3D from a FIB-SEM image stack created from a small section in the stem root. Living tissue in dark blue, dead stem root sheet in light blue, secretory vesicles in teal, cilia in red. Credit: Genus Sivasundarampillai

They further found that multiple cilia translated into a high degree of surface contact, which allowed the two disparate materials to be mechanically attached. The researchers also noted that the cilia oscillations helped to strengthen the grip between the two objects and allow for quick release when needed. They found that cilia movement is driven by neurotransmitters, which the researchers theorize are ultimately controlled by serotonin and dopamine.

More information:
A robust rapid-release biointerface in mussels mediated by serotonergic cilia-based adhesion, Genus Sivasundarampillai et al. Science (2023) DOI: 10.1126/science.adi7401

Guoqing Pan et al, A Dynamic Biointerface Controls Mussel Adhesion, Science (2023) DOI: 10.1126/science.adl2002

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